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Analysts tout advantage of Gilead hepatitis C drug

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Shares of drugmaker Gilead Sciences Inc. hit an all-time high in trading Tuesday after the company released overwhelmingly positive results for an experimental hepatitis C drug that analysts say could be a best-in-class medication.

Over the weekend Gilead presented results from its combination of sofosbuvir and daclatasvir that cured between 98 and 100 percent of patients within 12 weeks.

About 3.2 million people in the United States have hepatitis C, a blood-borne disease linked to 12,000 U.S. deaths a year. The traditional two-drug treatment for the virus cures only about 40 percent of people and causes side effects like nausea, fatigue and vomiting.

Last year Merck & Co. Inc. and Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. became the first companies to win approval for hepatitis C drugs in 20 years. But those drugs will soon face a wave of newer medications, including that from Gilead.

Analyst said Gilead's single-pill treatment could be a game changer that appeals to both patients and doctors.

"This sets the bar very high and will be very hard for other companies to compete against Gilead," states Citi analyst Yaron Weber. "This is the best case for Gilead and suggests that they will get the lion's share of the market."

Importantly, Gilead's treatment would not include ribavirin, an antiviral used in combination with current treatments.

"The elimination of ribavirin is a major positive, likely reducing the toxicity of the regimen, lowering the pill burden, offering a true once-daily regimen, reducing patient visits for hepatologists," states Jefferies analyst Thomas Wei, in a note to investors.

Abbott Laboratories and Bristol-Myers Squibb also reported positive results for their hepatitis C drugs over the weekend.

Bristol-Myers said a combination of its three medications cured the virus in 94 percent of patients.

Abbott Laboratories on Tuesday presented plans to test a combination of three drugs combined with ribavirin for treating hepatitis C. The company expects approval in 2015.

Analysts said Gilead's single-pill regimen will likely have a competitive advantage over both companies.

People can get hepatitis by sharing needles or having sex with an infected person. Most people with hepatitis C do not even know they have the virus until after liver damage has occurred. That can cause abdominal pain, fatigue, itching and dark urine.

Gilead Sciences Inc. shares fell 59 cents to $73.34, after opening at an all-time high of $75.48.